They spent nearly five and a half months on Tahiti gathering plants and set sail on Apr 4, 1789, for the West Indies.
On Apr 28, 1789, part of the crew, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied and took control of the Bounty, set Captain Bligh and 18 others adrift in the ship’s launch, with only enough supplies to reach a nearby island.
But the natives on the island proved unfriendly. Indeed, one of them Bligh had earlier humiliated. (Go to Find Stuff, Islanders, Nageete.) They escaped with the loss of one man, having gained very little in the way of supplies, and, in their escape, having lost some of what they already had.
With little choice, they set sail across 3600 miles (5800 kilometers) of largely unknown ocean for Timor, where they hoped to find a European settlement, and made it. Still one of the most heroic open-boat voyages in history. (But not the only one in this story.)
Meanwhile, the mutineers had taken the Bounty to an island called Tubuai, south of Tahiti, searching for a place to settle where they might not be found. After scouting the island, they returned to Tahiti for supplies. Returning once again to Tubuai, they began building a fort, which they patriotically named ‘Fort George.’
After almost three months of effort, trouble with the natives, and dissension among themselves, they agreed to abandon the effort and return to Tahiti.
Once at Tahiti, they split up; nine, including Fletcher Christian, staying with the Bounty, and the remaining 16 taking their chances by staying on Tahiti. Articles which were not necessary for sailing the ship, were divided fairly evenly.
Fletcher, his eight compadres, and some native men and women (some voluntary, some reportedly not) sailed away, not to be heard of again until an American whaler stumbled across the survivors on Pitcairn Island in 1808.
Meanwhile, the mutineers on Tahiti begat some children, built a schooner, compiled an anthropological treatise on the island and its people, compiled a vocabulary and grammar on the language, joined in some native wars and forever changed the island’s history. One killed another and was himself killed in turn by the natives.
Back in England, Captain Edward Edwards was dispatched with His Majesty’s Ship Pandora to the South Seas “to endeavor to recover the abovementioned Armed Vessel, and to bring in confinement to England the abovementioned Fletcher Christian and his Assocciates (a list of whose names you will receive herewith) or as many of them as have survived and you may be able to apprehend…”
Edwards sailed out to Tahiti without mishap, landed at Tahiti, and promptly gathered up the fourteen surviving mutineers. They were immediately clapped in irons without regard for the fact that Bligh himself had said that some were innocent and kept with the mutineers against their will. He had a jail built on deck, dubbed Pandora’s Box, to house them.
The Pandora sailed from Tahiti May 10, 1791, in search of the Bounty and the remaining mutineers. He had confiscated the mutineers schooner, had it outfitted with proper sails and rigging, and manned by Master’s Mate Oliver, a Midshipman, a Quartermaster and six crewmen. Named the Resolution by the mutineers, he renamed it the Matavy tender, and took it along to search the various islands.
Edwards sailed in the wrong direction. He found a yard, stamped ‘Bounty’s Driver Yard,’ but no Bounty, no mutineers.
He lost the Pandora’s jolly boat with Midshipman John Sival and four crewmen, one of them the Boatswain’s son, never to be heard from again.
The Pandora became separated from the Matavy tender. He scoured the vicinity for two days, then broke off the search for the Bounty to return to Annamooka Island, their rendevouz point; but after waiting some time, gave her up for lost and resumed his search.
She was not lost. Oliver and his crew also sailed south for Annamooka, but having no charts and not much knowledge (Oliver was 19 when He signed on the Pandora) they came up on the wrong island. And only just in time; their resupply was on the Pandora’s deck when they became separated.
The Pandora gave up the search and turned for home.
Oliver and his crew gave up waiting and stocking their ‘little bark’ with cocoanuts and yams, set off on their own epic voyage. Finding no opening at the Great Barrier Reef they manhandled the boat across. They actually outsailed Bligh. First they started from farther away, and second, meeting up with a ship south of Timor whose captain showed them his charts, they by-passed Timor and sailed to Surabaya in Java. Where, no surprise, the local authorities suspected they were the mutineers. After all, they answered the description, their boat was made of Tahiti wood, and Oliver, as a Master’s Mate, held no commission, only a note from Captain Edwards.
There was no manhandling the Pandora over the reef. In attempting to find an opening, she struck a reef and foundered, drowning 31 of the Pandora’s crew and four of her prisoners, two still in handcuffs.
They had saved four of the ship’s boats, and after a couple of days on a key getting themselves together, set sail for Coupang in Timor.
Oliver and crew had convinced the local governor to let them proceed to Batavia, under escort. They reached Semarang, Java.
At Coupang, Edwards arranged for passage for his crew on a Dutch vessel, the Rembang, for Batavia.
They sailed into Semarang, Java, the day after the Matavy tender. Their reunion ‘occasioned much joy.’
Like Bligh, Edwards lost more people to illness in Batavia (including the young Oliver), but eventually got what remained of his crew, and his ten prisoners back to England.
In England, a court-martial was held for the ten prisoners. Four were acquitted, five were condemned to death, one, the only one represented by counsel, got the equivalent of a mistrial. Of those condemned, two were pardoned, and three hanged.
When Bligh returned to England he published an account of the mutiny and the voyage in the launch, which made him a hero in the public’s eye. This was followed two years later with a book recounting the complete voyage with a retelling of the mutiny and the voyage in the launch. He was still riding high, when, two years after the court-martial, Edward Christian, Fletcher Christian’s brother and a Professor of Law, convinced Stephen Barney, William Muspratt’s counsel at the court-martial, to publish his minutes, to which he, Edward, added an Appendix. This began the turn of public opinion against Bligh.
Of the mutineers who went to Pitcairn, six were murdered, one committed suicide while drunk, and two died natural deaths. The violence notwithstanding, they established a colony and have their own history.